Five years ago, a door which had been wedged open for some time eventually gave way and closed shut on Scottish football’s two behemoths.
Talk of Celtic and Rangers joining the Premier League stretches way back to the glorious era of the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Glasgow teams were genuinely on par with much of England’s top tier.
Yet as the noughties moved on, so to did the likes of Henrik Larsson and Martin O’Neill from Parkhead, likewise Dick Advocaat and his array of Dutch superstars from Ibrox. Alas, over the past 15 years or so the gap between England’s top tier and Scotland’s has widened to the point of insurmountable.
The dream had pretty much already died by 2016 when the English Football League ruled out the prospect of an overhaul which could have paved the way for extra teams to join the tiered system. With that, the Old Firm’s doorway to a new existence – even via the bottom tier to begin with – was not only blocked off, but bolted shut.
Since then, Celtic’s dominance of the Scottish Premiership has only caused more viewers to tune out of the top tier north of the border, but with Rangers looking destined to halt the Bhoys’ charge towards a 10th title in a row, interest is simmering again.
Celtic’s 1-1 draw with Hibernian on Monday night leaves Rangers with a mammoth 21-point lead over the bungling Bhoys, whose feeble defence of their title under Neil Lennon looks all but over just 20 games in to their league campaign.
Scottish Premiership Title Odds
Celtic may have three games in hand, but with the form Rangers are in it’s no wonder the Gers are as short as 1/100 to see out the league as winners, with Celtic now quoted by bookmakers as 20/1 outsiders.
It’s a remarkable turnaround and the job Steven Gerrard has done hasn’t gone unnoticed in England where he spent the large majority of his playing career. The Liverpool legend might have seen Ibrox as a stepping stone to greater things when he first took the job, but given how well things are going, might he want to stick around?
Gerrard’s resolve could be tested should talk resurface of Rangers and Celtic joining the base of the English football pyramid, and although the conversation may seem dead and buried there is one scenario which could propel the Old Firm back into the picture.
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That scenario is the looming prospect of a European Premier League, whereby the biggest clubs on the continent would be invited to leave their respective domestic divisions in favour of competing against other Euro heavyweights week-in-week-out.
It’s a very real threat to the Premier League and other top divisions in Europe, but Rangers and Celtic are thought to be too far behind the elite clubs to be considered for inclusion in any such European ‘super league’.
Manchester United and Liverpool are known to have held talks over a FIFA-backed plan to create a breakaway European division, which would likely force UEFA to rethink their Champions League format should the super league get off the ground.
Concerns About Breakaway League
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has recently expressed his concerns about the proposal and fears another postponement to this season’s football campaign due to rising coronavirus infections could feed in to the wider plan for bigger clubs to break free.
While most of English football would be against the idea, Scotland’s big two could be licking their lips at the potential vacancies in the Premier League or indeed the Football League should the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea jump ship in the near future.
But if the opportunity came up down the line, would Rangers and Celtic be wise to start competing in English football?
“Yes, that’s my opinion because financially it’s much more profitable to be in the Premier League,” said former Rangers striker Michael Mols, speaking to bookmakers.co.uk ahead of the Masters Football re-launch on Amazon Prime.
“When you look at the money involved, the wages they could pay, the money they could spend. It’s unbelievable.
“If you want to attract quality players you need to pay a premium price for them. But Scottish clubs can’t afford it with the TV money they currently get.
“If they want to make progress as a club it would be better playing in the English Premier League.”
TV Revenue Would Decrease
Of course, automatic inclusion in the Premier League is by no means a guarantee even if England’s top tier eventually loses four or five of its top teams, but Mols – one of Dick Advocaat’s many Dutch signings at Ibrox – has no doubts the Old Firm would rise to the top tier at soon as possible if given the opportunity.
It is also likely that the value of TV rights to broadcast the Premier League would go down should it be robbed of several of the most-supported clubs, but any revised figure would still dwarf that of the Scottish Premiership.
Indeed, the Scottish Premiership would be left in the same predicament as the English Premier League should this merry-go-round ever transpire, and Mols admits it would only plunge Scotland’s top tier further into the wilderness.
He said: “When people think about Scottish football they think of Rangers and Celtic, they are the main attractions. If they were to move to the Premier League, the league will lose that attention.
“So the value of the league would go down in my opinion, which is why you can imagine most people in Scotland would want to keep them in the Premiership.”
Fans of the SPFL needn’t worry though, according to another former Rangers striker – Tore Andre Flo, who played alongside Mols at Ibrox between 2000 and 2002.
The Norwegian, who remains the most expensive signing ever made by a Scottish club at £12million, is more pessimistic – or realistic, depending on how you see the subject – than his old team-mate.
“I wish it was still a possibility but I have my doubts because it hasn’t really been discussed for so many years now,” he told bookmakers.co.uk. “I would love it to happen but I don’t think that it actually will.
“There was a lot of talk about it back when I was playing for Rangers, but if they were to do it now I think they would come up through the divisions pretty quickly – both clubs are so big they would just expand as soon as they got to the top league.”
For now, the conversation with the English football authorities will have to wait. It’s the top teams in the Premier League who have the power to negotiate their way into a super league who hold the key to door that was once seemingly bolted shut. This age-old debate may not be done just yet.